Museums are always looking for ideas to bring new visitors to aging attractions, and in ARTSHIP OLYMPIA Independence Seaport Museum has found a charming, fringey way. Sixteen site-specific art installations curated by Philadelphia Sculptures are dotted around the historic naval vessel.
As the American flagship during the 1898 Battle of Manila during the Spanish-American War, Olympia was a steel-hull precursor to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Navy (the stick in “speak softly and carry a big stick”). The restored vessel is well worth a visit in its own right, with restored staterooms, mess halls, barber shop and more providing a peak at life (for officers and crew) aboard. But this first-time visitor was glad of the introductory opportunity to follow the treasure trail of art through the impressively scaled boat. Cheryl Harper’s hanging mustaches in the officer’s washroom, Mary Mattingly’s wooden books in the ship library, Jacintha Clark’s porcelain instruments in the captains office. Several works prove deeply affecting: Elizabeth Mackie’s haunting “She-Sea” summons the ghosts of the women missing from life on sea; Andi Steele’s “Ghost Hammocks” evokes the presence of long-gone crewmen; Joanna Platt and Nathan Solomon transform the sick bay into an entrancing contemplation on mortality and war in “Laid Up in Ordinary”. And of course, there are rats: Joan Menapace’s provides “Fellow Travelers” in the form of cute knitted rodents around the ship.